Country should try to regain historical maritime influence in the region: Commodore Thomas

CHENNAI: After the Galwan standoff with China, India now needs to assess its options to regain its maritime influence in the east of Malacca, notwithstanding Beijing’s protest, says a recent paper published in the Journal of Defence of Studies. The paper titled ‘Leveraging India’s Maritime Diplomacy’, authored by Commodore Roby Thomas, says a significant portion of China’s energy requirements and trade passing close to the Indian Peninsula and onwards through the Malacca Strait, has been a concern for China.

“It’s therefore not without reason that Beijing has always been keen to offset this disadvantage, by developing relations of convenience with Indian Ocean littorals in India’s sphere of influence,” states the report. Stating that India’s engagement with the countries in Southeast Asia underwent a strategic shift towards the end of the 20th century when India initiated the ‘Look East’ policy in 1991, later upgraded to the ‘Act East’ policy in 2014, the report said India now should try to regain historical maritime influence which include maritime cooperation in those areas and sectors where India can easily ramp-up the existing level of activities.

“India could also seek to deepen both its submarine and anti-submarine cooperation with Indonesia and Australia by increasing the complexity of these two components in the existing bilateral maritime exercises with both countries, as well as looking to institute a trilateral maritime exercise between the three nations,” states Commodore Roby Thomas in the paper published in the July-September 2020 volume of the journal.

“It is also reasonable that India joins the Malacca Strait Patrol (MSP) as a partner navy with the existing countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. This would be logical due the close proximity of the southern tip of Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Malacca Strait, making India a Malacca funnel state, and also because of its ongoing operational engagements with the MSP partner navies,” the paper states. 

The paper also states that the events at the Line of Actual Control in the union territory of Ladakh in May 2020 have definitely marked an inflection point in India’s strategic worldview. This would need appropriate reflection in strategic literature, which would justify a review of the areas of strategic influence, with India’s primary areas of interest expanding eastwards to encompass the South China Sea.

“This sentiment has been echoed by some American analysts who have reasoned that the Chinese-induced crisis in the Himalayas would have finally encouraged India to tilt in favour of an alliance to check Chinese expansionism. This would justify India aligning with Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, while playing a ‘pre-eminent role’ in this largely maritime construct,” states Commodore Roby Thomas in his paper.